If you’re looking for somewhere to visit around America this summer, it might be worth a trip to the Deep South. It’s a place with a difficult history of segregation and violence but it’s also full of culture with New Orleans being the birthplace of jazz, and a veritable melting pot of different influences. And there are also several beautiful plantation homes to visit, each one in a unique yet recognizable style. No longer a symbol of oppression, these homes are often beautifully preserved and open to the public, so that you can admire the distinctly American architecture. We’ve got some top recommendations in our Top 10 Best Preserved Plantation Homes.
10. Gaineswood, AL
This National Historic Landmark dates from 1861 and is a great example of the Greek Revival style of architecture, with its mix of different types of columns and contrasting colored stones. It is located in the city of Demopolis and is named after George Strother Gaines, who purchased the land in the 1820s and built a cabin there.
But it would be the next owner – Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield – who would expand the land, start the cotton plantation and build the house where the cabin used to stand. It took years to perfect, but by 1861 the house was complete, along with artificial lake and gazebo. It was passed to the Alabama Historical Commission in 1971, and opened to the public 4 years later and it now has around 3,000 visitors a year. It is still decorated in the 1861 style and many of the furnishings were owned by General Whitfield. A must-see for history enthusiasts!
9. Moss Hill, AL
Still in Alabama, but a much more modest house this house overlooks the Seale Plantation. It was built in 1845 and is still in perfect condition, with its classic Southern-style white woodwork. It’s what’s known as an “I-style” house, with a long porch across the front. You can find it near the tiny town of Pine Apple, in Wilcox County, which at last count was home to only 145 people. It’s not the grandest example of a plantation house, but it’s been recently restored and is beautiful to look at.
8. Montpelier, SC
This is another Greek-inspired house, on a cotton and grape plantation in South Carolina. It was named Montpelier by the first owner, Samuel Maverick, whose grandmother who came from Montpelier in France. It suffered serious damage in a fire in 1850, but Samuel rebuilt the house, along with his daughter and son-in-law.
One of Samuel’s children. born at Montpelier, was Samuel Augustus Maverick, politician and signer of the Texan Declaration of Independence There is some confusion over the life of the younger Samuel Maverick, with some accounts suggesting that when he was a cattle-rancher in Texas, his stubborn refusal to brand his cattle led to the word “maverick” entering the English language. Other accounts deny that he ever owned cattle. But he probably spent his early years at Montpelier, Pendleton, and some of his later married life. The house is currently privately owned, but worth a look if you’re in the area, to see a slice of American history.
7. Drayton Hall, SC
Another great plantation house in South Carolina is Drayton Hall. Built in 1738 by John Drayton, it remained in the family for 7 generations until it was sold to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1974. It is still preserved in the 18th century style, and is an exquisite example of Georgian-Palladian architecture, inspired by Andrea Palladio’s “The Four Books on Architecture“.
The survival of the hall is particularly remarkable, given that it was used as a staging ground during the War of Independence and has seen numerous hurricanes as well as an earthquake nearby. It’s rare that you’ll see such a perfect example of both plantation house and battleground, and there are regular events at the Hall to encourage visitors to come and see it for themselves. This year sees the 30th Annual Spirituals Concert at the Hall, which shows that the National Trust want to honor not only the former owners of the house, but also the slaves who helped to make it great.
6. Evergreen Plantation, LA
With its distinctive twin, curved staircases on the front, the Evergreen Plantation house is a beautiful sight in itself. But it is much more than that – it is part of a complex of 37 buildings including slave cabins and it is still a working plantation, growing sugar cane. Tours are operated daily around the complex and you can see how the plantation works today and learn tales from its past. It is on Highway 18, near Wallace and has National Historic Landmark status.
If the house looks familiar, it may be because it featured in a recent film – “Django Unchained”, which highlighted the atrocities committed to the slaves on the plantations. Evergreen does not skim over this and says that its tours “strive to do justice to its history”. An important place to visit for anyone with an interest in that era.
5. Oak Alley, LA
Along Highway 18 from Evergreen is Oak Alley, known as the “Grande Dame of the River Road”. Like Evergreen, it has also been used as a filmset, featuring in Beyonce videos and the Brad Pitt/Tom Crusie movie “Interview with a Vampire.” It was modernized in 1925 to include new kitchen facilities and plumbing, but in every other way it still looks much like it did in 1837. It’s another Greek Revival-style home, with some French Creole elements, and has an impressive 28 columns surrounding the house. It’s also home to its own ghost – previous owner and benefactor Josephine Stewart is said to have been spotted in the Lavender Room. Presumably, she’s making sure the house is being well looked after…
4. Waverley, MS
Another plantation home said to be haunted is the magnificent Waverley in West Point, Mississippi. It was purchased by the Snow family in 1962 after years of neglect, and during the restoration Mrs Snow started seeing visions of a small girl, who called her “Mama”. Then she heard a ghostly child’s voice around the house, calling for her and tugging on her apron strings.
The hauntings continued for years, but she hasn’t been spotted since 1990. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other spooks to keep you company if you visit, including a ghostly horse and rider in the extensive grounds. Ghosts aside, it is a beautifully restored house and one of the best preserved houses in Mississippi.
3. Destrehan, LA
This French-owned sugar plantation was so powerful that an entire settlement built up around it, which now has a population of 11,535. It was built in 1790 and was a successful plantation before being turned into a refinery in 1914. The refinery closed in 1959 and the house fell into disrepair before being donated to the River Road Historical Society in 1971. It had now been restored and is open to the public, for tours and colonial-era crafts.
As with so many plantation homes, there is some darkness in its history – specifically the St. Charles Parish Tribunal, which found 18 slaves guilty of taking part in a revolt (the 1811 German Coast Uprising). The uprising resulted in the deaths of 2 white men and 95 black men in the subsequent trials. They are remembered every year by the African American History Alliance of Louisiana. It’s a beautiful house, but it is worth taking a moment when visiting to remember them too.
2. Liberty Hall, GA
This plantation was run a little differently to the rest – it was home to Alexander H. Stephens, vice President of the Confederacy, and the slaves there were well treated. There was no overseer, they were not whipped and even after their liberation, most stayed on working for him as freemen. In fact, two of his slaves, known as Harry and Eliza, cared for him until his death.
This may surprise those who know Stephens for his “Cornerstone” speech, in which he implied that black men were inferior to white men and that they should be enslaved. In fact, the speech was quoted out of context and didn’t reflect his personal views on slavery. Visitors to his former home – Liberty Hall in Crawfordville – can learn the story of Harry and Eliza in their cottage that stood behind the main house. The Hall is the center of the A.H. Stephens Historic Park, a 1,177 acre park devoted to his memory. Well worth a visit
1. Millford, SC
Of all the Greek Revival-style plantation houses, it is Millford, SC that is often considered to be the best. Majestic inside and out, with 6 huge Corinthian columns, it was built in 1839 and still retains a lot of its 19th century furniture and fittings. It has survived many things, including the Civil War although it was under threat when Union troops arrived on April 19, 1865. Luckily, their commanding officer was a General Elmer Potter and his brother Nathaniel was the architect who had designed Millford. So the great mansion lived to see another day, and is now under the delicate care of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, who have restored it to its former glory.